Shopping Addiction

Shopping addiction can ruin your life. As with all addictions, shopping becomes the main mechanism for coping with uncomfortable feelings. Whereas normal shopping will involve the occasional splurge, shopping addicts will become increasingly powerless to prevent themselves shopping excessively, even though they know it is damaging other areas of life.

As with all addictions, there will be a progressive loss of control, increasing obsession and compulsion, secrecy and significant damage to finances and relationships. Although first cited as a psychiatric disorder almost one hundred years ago, shopping addiction would seem to be a particularly modern addiction. In our consumerist society, we are encouraged to spend money by politicians and told by advertisers that buying things will make us happy. We see others possessing ‘things’ and we want them too: consumerism has become a measure of our social worth.

We all shop, but, judging from American studies, perhaps only around 6% of the UK population has a shopping addiction. This is likely to be present alongside co-occurring disorders such as personality disorders, mood disorders, eating disorders, substance use disorders, impulse control disorders and anxiety disorders. Expert opinion is divided about precisely how to categorise shopping addiction, but it is currently considered to be an impulsive-compulsive spectrum disorder (as, too, is kleptomania and binge-eating disorder).

Shopping addiction shares a number of characteristics with other addictions. Shopping addicts will become preoccupied with spending money and shopping, and commit significant amounts of time and money, often involving the development of debt, to the pursuit of this activity. Note that window-shopping does not represent an addiction: actual spending of money is required for an addictive process to exist. As with all addictions, shopping addiction involves ritualised behaviour and addictive thinking, with behaviour being rationalised and justified. Although the act of shopping can sometimes be impulsive, it is likely to be carefully considered and planned.

Typically, shopping addicts will use shopping to avoid feelings of depression, boredom, anger and low self-esteem. Psychologically, the shopping addict will feel that they are buying not just, for example, a new handbag, but instead a new self. The act of shopping is therefore highly stimulating and elicits pleasurable feelings, heightened mood and a sense of relief from anxiety and stress. Afterwards, the shopping addict is likely to experience a downturn in mood, with feelings of guilt and shame; escape into an artificial new identity and self-worth is short-lived.

Purchases are often never used and shopping addicts will typically hoard unused and never worn purchases. In the meantime, they will be planning their next shop. At Start2Stop, we have had a wealth of experience of helping clients recover from shopping addiction.

Treatment may involve consolidation of debt, the creation of external controls on spending (often involving third party curatorship of finances), cognitive-behavioural therapy, the development of healthier ways of managing negative feelings, psychological therapy to address and deal with the core emotional issues, participation in mutual help fellowships and group therapy.

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